A Month of Family History Fitness

By Family Tree Editors

genealogy tips resolutions organization goals research

As the editors of Family Tree Magazine, our resolutions for 2018 revolve around whipping our genealogy skills into shape! Each day in January, we’ll be updating this page with a new “genealogy fitness” tip or challenge. We’ll also be sharing our tips in video posts each day on our Facebook account, so be sure to follow us!


Day31: Share what you’ve learned! Take the time to create a family history book that your ancestors can enjoy from generations to come. Check out our article for a step-by-step guide to creating your own family history book.

Day 30: Check out genealogy video channels on YouTube. Here are some of our favorites!

Day 29: Branch out and pick a genealogy website you haven’t used much (perhaps FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage, Findmypast, Access Genealogy, and Genealogy Today). Spend at least 15 minutes perusing its offerings. Look for a content listing, how-to articles, resource listings and more. You might discover a new favorite website!

Day 28: Search the free Social Security Death Index on FamilySearch.org. Check for any 20th-century US relatives who lack death dates.

Day 27: Set a goal that you’ve been holding onto and break it down into smaller parts. By establishing a research plan, you’ll give yourself a guide to future research. Check out this video for more ideas.

Day 26: Select one ancestor and research any of his or her siblings that you know about but haven’t previously studied. This “collateral” research can help you uncover information about your direct-line ancestors, such as parents’ names or birthplaces.

Day 25: Preserve your own information for future genealogists. Write down the major events from your lifetime (your birth, graduation(s), marriage(s), major moves, military service, etc.) and store them in a safe place. Your descendants will be glad that you did!

Day 24: Organize your desk. Clean, structured workplaces will help you at your best and prevent you from distractions. Also be sure to organize your computer desktop or the apps on your tablet or smartphone. Check out these tips for an organized workspace.

Day 23: Establish a research log. Diane Haddad’s log is a great template for creating your own

Day 22: Find a family recipe or one that’s in line with your ethnic heritage, and prepare it for your family. If you hate to cook, find it at a restaurant or ethnic grocery. Here are a few ideas to get you started. 

Day 21: Back up your research. You can do this in a variety of ways. Digitize your work and use a cloud backup such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or Backblaze.

Day 20: Do you have a backlog of downloaded records in your computer’s Documents or Downloads folder? Set a time each week to file five of those records in folders by surname. Attach each record to your online or software family tree, if you have one.

Day 19: Find what newspapers were published in your ancestor’s hometown during his lifetime. Start by using the free U.S. Newspaper Directory at ChroniclingAmerica. This will help you identify the newspapers in which you might find mention of your ancestors. And don’t forget, The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide launches today!

Day 18: Use the FamilySearch Wiki to find out if your ancestor’s home state conducted its own census, and when. State census records, when available, can help fill in gaps left by federal census records.

Day 17: Set a time limit to your search sessions. Taking breaks can actually improve your productivity because you’ll have a chance to step back and evaluate what you’ve been working on. Plus, taking a breather lets you approach your research from a fresh perspective.

Day 16: Take a course or attend a seminar at your local genealogical society and apply your new skills to finding your ancestors. If you’d prefer to learn from the comfort of your own home, check out our courses!

Day 15: Write a paragraph or two that includes everything you know about an ancestor. Writing out that person’s information can help you identify gaps in your research.

Day 14: Create a file naming system for your online materials and write it down. That way you can refer to the system if you ever need to remember the name of a picture or document on your computer.

Day 13: Visit the website of your local public library and browse the history and genealogy research offerings. Make note of any resources you want to use on your next visit. Check out these tips before you go!

Day 12: City directories list adult residents (usually, just employed individuals) of a city or town, with their addresses. Choose an ancestor and look him up in each year’s city directory published during his lifetime. Use the data to create a timeline of his addresses and occupations.

Day 11: Choose an ancestor to write a narrative about. Start with his or her birth and end with death, going over the documents you have about that person as you work. This will help you spot connections and see where you’re missing records (for example, you haven’t found him yet in the 1920 census). You’ll also have a profile you can share with family.

Day 10: Revisit your favorite genealogy website and review the collections that have been recently added or updated. Most major records websites continually update their databases, so be sure to check back periodically to take advantage of new additions that are relevant to your research. You can find recently revised collections on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org (for the latter, click “Last Updated” to sort collections by when they were last edited).

Day 9: Interview one of your older relatives about their lives. Be sure to record it so you can document your relative’s stories for generations to come. Check out this Premium article for tips.

Day 8: Start a genealogy blog. Use a free site like WordPress to create your genealogy blog, then use it as a place to document and share your research.

Day 7: Translate foreign language records by using Google Translate. It may not offer a perfect translation, but it may offer you enough to find relevant information about your ancestors.

Day 6: Look for a new genealogy Facebook groups. RAOGK is a great group to join, but you can also search for groups about the town or country where your ancestor lived.

Day 5: Download your raw DNA data from your testing company, then submit it to a third-party application such as GEDMatch. This will allow you to access additional analysis tools and also connect with those who tested with other companies. Check out these three ways of using GEDmatch in your DNA research.

Day 4: Make it a resolution to do some genealogy volunteering this year. Practice your skills all while giving back to the genealogical community.

Day 3: Select the most-recent person in your family tree, and make sure you’ve found him or her in every census that was taken during his lifetime. Repeat for each ancestor in your tree, working back from generation to generation. Learn more about using these records with our guide to Cracking the Census Code. (Premium article)

Day 2: Invest in a new genealogy book. Check out our reader’s top-voted books list on Goodreads.com for some great options.

Day 1: If you haven’t been citing your sources, now is a great time to start. Source citations will help you and others retrace your steps later. We’ve got some great resources to get you started!

For  more tips to get inspired, check out the following articles:

What are Your New Year’s Genealogy Resolutions? Learn the 2018 genealogy resolutions of each of the editors of Family Tree Magazine

31 Days of Family History Fitness (premium article) – Check out last year’s “genealogy fitness” tips and challenges

Craft a Strong Genealogy Goal in 2018 – with these 4 tips from our course, Get Started with Genealogy.